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What to Expect in a Texas Divorce - Spousal Support in Texas

Money is a major concern for most people who go through a divorce. Even if you have a well-paying job with a track record of success and stability there is not much that can make you feel more vulnerable than a divorce. Your sense of cohesion and consistency in your life is going to be thrown for a loop at least temporarily. As a result, what you considered to be a safe place for you (your home) may end up becoming a source of stress and frustration. All your hard work to create a platform for yourself from which to build your life may seem like it is crumbling at its foundation. 

If you are not doing well financially then a divorce can make a bad situation even worse. Depending upon who you ask, the economy is either doing brilliantly or is doing poorly. Different areas of the economy have bounced back more quickly after the pandemic than others and what we are left with is a situation where if the kind of work that you do is hard to find or at best inconsistent then you may be feeling a bit more of an economic pinch than your neighbor. Couple that with inflation and the increased cost of living during a divorce and you have a potentially combustible situation on your hands at least from a personal finance perspective. 

Murphy’s Law as applied to a Texas divorce

Are any of you familiar with Murphy’s Law? Murphy’s Law refers to an adage that goes something like this: What can go wrong, will go wrong given the right set of events and circumstances. Put another way: when it rains, it pours. If you find yourself in an already precarious situation like a divorce bad things tend to happen on top of the divorce. I don’t know why this is. However, what I have picked up on in my years as an attorney is that negative things tend to happen to people while they are going through a divorce. If you are not prepared for these difficult circumstances to arise in your life, then you are going to be in a bad position. 

Murphy, if you’re not careful, will move right into your house and take up residence in the spare bedroom. He is not a great houseguest, either. When he moves in you will hope he gets out as quickly as possible. The only problem is that once he gets in he tends to stay awhile. This is due in large part to people in your shoes not knowing what their options are and what they can do to move Murphy out and start to find some financial stability during the divorce.

This isn't because people who go through a divorce aren't smart or capable. What it boils down to is that when you go through a divorce your mind is in a place where you may not be able to wrap your head around everything that is going on in your life. With so much changing, focusing on one specific area can prove to be a challenge. As a result, we need to keep our focus on those subjects that are going to be the most impactful to us and our life. Failing to do this can put you into a bad situation and cause a real-life example of Murphy's Law to come true. 

Taking a look at your finances means being honest with yourself

When you are being honest with yourself that means that you are allowing a full look into your life- the good parts and the bad. When times are good it is easy to overlook those parts of your life that are not quite firing on all cylinders. When the tide is high that’s how things work. However, when the tide comes in we can tell who isn't doing as well. If you are someone who has not performed an honest evaluation of your finances in some time, then you should allow this divorce case to be the opportunity that you needed to look at your life and your finances and provide an honest assessment of where you are and where you think you are going. 

Your finances can change from month to month but likely they will not. Emergencies happen, most. However, those emergencies happen less often than you may feel they do. What you are left with is a situation where you have rather predictable bills to account for as well as the other expenses that we encounter weekly like groceries, medical bills, etc. The costs of a divorce are going to be added to that pile of bills to provide you with a better jumping-off point to gauge where you are from a financial perspective. This is the first step that you can take to get an accurate assessment of your finances. 

Next, look at your bank accounts and other accounts that are impactful to your day-to-day life. Do you have credit cards? Most people do. What is the status of those accounts? You should at least try to get caught up on payments so that you are current on those bills. Minimum payments are fine for now since any credit card debt may be moved around during the divorce. You may be barred from paying more than the minimum or face value of a credit card bill during the divorce. The same goes for other payments like your mortgage, student loans, and other debts. 

Your checking and savings accounts are important to monitor during the divorce. For one, you may have new bills that need to be paid during the divorce like attorney's fees, child support, or childcare for the kids. Your expenses may increase because of having to pay your mortgage and rent on a house or apartment. How the bills and expenses are divided during a divorce will be specific to the circumstances of your case. Do not assume that you and your spouse are going to have your bills divided equally between the two of you. If you earn substantially more income than he or she does then you are likely to be the spouse who ends up paying more bills during the divorce. This is a point that you can negotiate on but the reality is that if your spouse does not have the money coming into their life that you do then you will need to shoulder this burden during the divorce.

If you and your spouse both share the same bank accounts, then you will not be able to drain the account and open an account in your name or change access codes and passwords to lock your spouse out of an account. This is going to also be forbidden because of your having gone through the divorce and receiving temporary orders from the court. Keep in mind that your spouse is going to have bills and expenses of their own in addition to what you have gone through in the divorce. If you lock him or her out of the account, then you can expect to have to account for your having done so. During a divorce, this can mean having to take a trip to the courthouse to answer for having done that. Time off from work and having to pay your attorney for attending this hearing with you is the result of doing this. You should, however, keep track of your spending and your spouse’s spending within those accounts to make sure that everyone is honoring the written rules about only spending money on essentials during the case. 

Choosing the right attorney for you, your case, and your budget

During the divorce itself, there is no more important decision for you to make than which attorney you are going to hire to represent you- if any. It is not required that you hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce though most people going through a divorce do ultimately choose to hire a lawyer. You can look at this as a short-term investment into your long-term future. Not having a lawyer can mean that you do not prepare as well as you otherwise could have for hearings or mediation. Your ability to negotiate can be hamstrung throughout the case due to your not knowing as much about the law, your circumstances, or other potential issues as an attorney would. Hiring an experienced family law attorney may cost money but it may end up proving to be the most important decision that you made in your entire case. 

Most divorces could stand to benefit from attorney involvement. For example, if you have children under 18 and/or a significant amount of property to divide between you and your spouse then an attorney can help with this process. Keep in mind that it is very difficult to go back and change how property is divided between parties in a divorce once the case is over. You should look at this as your one "bite at the apple." If you don't get it right this time around there is no guarantee that you will be able to come back and change how the property was divided in the future. It is unlikely that you will get this opportunity. Therefore, you should use this time wisely and negotiate as strongly as you can.

Next, child support is a major issue financially both during and after a divorce. The part of the child support calculation that an attorney can help you with the most is to confirm your net income or to do so for your spouse. The net monthly income of a person is what counts when it comes to calculating child support. If you or your spouse earn income from multiple sources, it is important to be able to figure out what those sources are and how to integrate them into the child support calculation process. Keep in mind that if you have an irregular income then having an attorney is important to present an accurate income to the court and your spouse. The last thing that you want to do is to put yourself in a position where the court believes that you earn more money than you do. This will wind up with you paying more in child support than you otherwise would have had to. 

You should ask any attorney that you meet with what their hourly rate is. Family law attorneys bill by the hour as will any of their staff that works on your case. Once you meet with enough attorneys you can begin to get a sense of what is a reasonable rate for the attorney to charge and what you consider to be unreasonable. Finding some degree of balance between price, location, and experience is what you need to be looking for. You want your attorney to be close enough to meet with you in person if need be. You also need to make sure that the attorney has the level of experience necessary to be able to do what you need to have done in the courtroom and at the negotiating table. Finally, the price has to be right, as they say. If you cannot afford the attorney, then it does not make sense to hire him or her. In that way, hiring an attorney is no different than shopping for a car. Buying a car that is out of your price range may feel good for a moment, but you will be left in a situation where you are responsible for a bill that you cannot afford. That can leave a lasting impact on your case when it comes to your finances. 

Spousal support during and after a divorce

There are three different types of spousal support that I think are relevant in a Texas divorce: spousal support that is paid temporarily during the divorce, spousal maintenance, and contractual alimony. Temporary spousal support can be paid during the divorce by one spouse to another to help with basic bills and expenses. This typically happens when one spouse is unable to pay their bills due to their not having worked for an extended period before the divorce case. A judge can look at your budget to determine where money needs to go and how much money may need to be paid from one spouse to another. 

Next, we can consider contractual alimony. Contractual alimony is a kind of spousal support that is agreed to by spouses and will be paid after the divorce comes to an end. Contractual alimony cannot be ordered by a judge and must be negotiated by you and your spouse. There are no limits or requirements that must be in place when it comes to contractual alimony. One important point to make about contractual alimony is that it is essentially a contract between you and your spouse. Elements of contract law apply more so than elements of family law when it comes to contractual alimony. 

The last type of spousal support that I wanted to mention today is spousal maintenance. This is a type of support that can be ordered only by a judge during a trial. Some requirements must be in place for spousal maintenance to be ordered. You and your spouse must have been married for at least ten years. Additionally, the spouse receiving the money must show an inability to meet their minimum, basic needs without financial assistance. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you will necessarily be able to live the lifestyle you have become accustomed to during your marriage. Spousal maintenance is intended to help you or your spouse keep your heads above water.

Bear in mind, as well, that Texas family court judges are typically not excited to award spousal maintenance in a trial setting. There must be an obvious need for it. In addition to being married for ten years, you can also receive spousal maintenance if you are the caretaker for a child with a disability or are the person with a disability yourself and are unable to work then you can be awarded spousal maintenance if you cannot meet your minimal, basic needs as a result. In any event, it is a good idea to be prepared when you are making your case either for or against spousal maintenance in a trial. Having a detailed understanding of your finances and those of your spouse is critical. Being honest with yourself and going through the trouble of figuring out your financial state is the first step towards achieving this goal.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may change if a divorce or child custody case is filed. 

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